By Florence Beth Snyder

The Daytona Beach university now known as Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) opened in 1904 as the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. Founder Mary McLeod Bethune had five students and an operating budget of $1.50.  

The children worked at desks that Bethune had fashioned from wooden crates. They learned how to read, write, and make ink for pens from elderberry juice, while parents raised money selling fried fish and sweet potato pie to workers at the city dump adjacent to the school.

Bethune was exceptionally skilled at friend-raising and fundraising among people who shared her dream of bringing education to the heirs of those who, like her, were the children of former slaves. 

The school went co-ed in 1925 when it merged with Jacksonville's Cookman Institute.

Today, BC-U's 85-acre campus is home to 4,000 students and the site of the six buildings that comprise the Bethune-Cookman Historic District.

Mary McLeod Bethune's home is located on Bethune Cookman University Campus in Daytona Beach.

Mary McLeod Bethune's home is located on Bethune Cookman University Campus in Daytona Beach.

- Willie J. Allen Jr. for VISIT FLORIDA

Among them is the home Bethune lived in from 1913 to her death in 1955. Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche are among the celebrated literary, sports, and political figures who felt right at home in the two-story dwelling Bethune nicknamed “The Retreat.” Student docents are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the original furnishings, photographs and memorabilia that fill every room, so give yourself plenty of time to ask questions.

White Hall dates back to 1915 and is named for industrialist and school benefactor Thomas E. White. The building got a $2 million sprucing-up in 2010, but retains all of its Georgian revival-style charm. Inside is the Gertrude Hotchkiss Heynel Memorial Chapel, the spiritual center of BC-U and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from the Chapel pulpit, and Bethune's close friend Eleanor Roosevelt had been a speaker.  

BC-U fields teams in 17 NCAA Division I sports, including football and basketball. The baseball team plays its home games at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, where its legendary namesake made history in 1946 when he played in the first integrated Major League Baseball spring training game. The ballpark features a statue of Robinson, historical markers and a museum. Group tours are available by appointment, or come enjoy a Wildcats home game and catch the sights on your way in.

BC-U is also home to one of the world's most elite marching bands. Over 300 musician-athletes wear the maroon and gold uniforms of The Marching Wildcats, also known as The Pride. At the helm are five drum majors called "The Five Horsemen." The Pride has fans all over the world, thanks to televised appearances in band competitions, commercials, and the feature film “Drumline.”

BC-U's 14 Karat Gold dancers pop up frequently on the BET television network, where they help showcase historically black colleges. But the best place to see this extraordinary dance team is alongside The Pride and the Sophisticat Flag Corp during the pregame and halftime shows at Larry Kelly Field.

For those who prefer to take their entertainment in air conditioned comfort, there's the Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center. The 2,500-seat theater accommodates touring theatrical productions and musicians, and the Lee Gallery exhibits works by regional and local artists. There's also a permanent collection of African art, and guided tours are available.  

When the Wildcats aren't on campus, you're likely to find them at Daytona Beach's nearby shopping and dining district, enjoying everything from breakfast to nightlife, and trolling for one-of-a-kind treats, trinkets, and special gifts for special people.

When you go…
Bethune-Cookman University
640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd., Daytona Beach, Fla. 32114
(386) 481-2000


related content